Foreign ministry says US, UK and others trying to ‘economically strangle’ Belarus
Belarus has threatened to retaliate after the US, UK and other western countries introduced a new round of sanctions over its government’s human rights abuses and the orchestration of a migration crisis on the border with Europe.
“The goal of this entire policy is to economically strangle Belarus,” the Belarusian foreign ministry said on Friday, while the country’s authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko, called the pressure “unprecedented”.
The foreign ministry said there would be “tough, asymmetric but appropriate measures” in response. Officials did not say what those measures would be.
Belarus has already shown it is ready to go to extremes in its growing diplomatic standoff with western countries. Lukashenko is accused of encouraging thousands of people from the Middle East to enter Europe via Belarus in retaliation for earlier sanctions tied to his efforts to arrest and punish his domestic opposition.
The migration crisis has subsided somewhat as Belarus has begun pulling asylum seekers back from the border, sending hundreds on flights to Iraq and housing more than 1,000 people in a logistics warehouse where conditions are extremely basic.
Still, Poland reported 46 attempts to cross the border on Friday, including what it called “violent” attempts near two border guard posts. Belarusian forces have been accused of guiding people to the border and cutting through border defences. Polish troops have been accused of beating and mistreating people who have crossed the border.
Rights groups have criticised the European Commission after it proposed that three countries sharing a border with Belarus should be allowed to hold people in special asylum processing centres for up to 16 weeks, up from the current maximum of four.
Western governments had vowed to sanction Minsk but the hardline reactions of states bordering Belarus toward migrants and refugees exacerbated tensions in the economic bloc.
EU sanctions targeted the state airline Belavia, the Syrian airline Cham Wings, Minsk hotels and tour agencies in a targeted punishment of organisations that enabled the movement of thousands of people from Iraq, Syria, and other countries to Europe on a path that became known as the “Belarus route”.
“We again demand that the Lukashenko regime immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU,” the EU, UK, US and Canada said in a joint statement. “Those in Belarus or in third countries who facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know this comes at a substantial cost.”
In its fifth round of sanctions, the UK sanctioned eight Belarusian officials and imposed an asset freeze on Belaruskali, a state-run potash fertiliser, in an effort to “target a major source of revenue and foreign currency for the Lukashenko regime”.
The US targeted 20 individuals, 12 entities, blocked three aircraft and imposed restrictions on holding Belarusian sovereign debt with a maturity greater than 90 days.
The economic sanctions also targeted the state-owned tourism company Tsentrkurort, a cargo carrier accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to conflict zones such as Libya, and Belarusian defence and potash companies.
The US also sanctioned Lukashenko’s middle son, Dmitry.